Infectious Disease experts say variants, slow vaccine rollout may lead to COVID vaccine becoming like yearly flu shot

Health officials confirm a COVID-19 variant, B.1.1.7, has been confirmed in three test samples in Arizona
Updated: Jan. 29, 2021 at 10:22 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - The Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) has reported that 3 cases of the so-called U.K. COVID-19 variant, B.1.1.7, has been confirmed in three test samples from the state.

According to AZDHS, the UK identified this new strain in the fall 2020, and it was first detected in the U.S. at the end of December. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this variant of SARS-CoV-2 spreads at a faster rate; however, studies suggest that the vaccines currently authorized for use are effective against the UK COVID-19 variant, B.1.1.7.

However, Dr. Elizabeth Connick, Professor of Medicine and Chief of Infectious Diseases at the University of Arizona said some data suggests that the UK strain may be even more virulent, which means it can make people sicker and cause more death. This has not been fully proven, but Dr. Connick said it should still act as a warning to Arizonans.

“It’s really a wakeup call for people in Arizona,” said Dr. Connick. “I’m not in the least bit surprised that it’s here. The more that the virus replicates, the more mutations. That is a basic law of biology.”

What is a concern to her is it’s ability to spread faster. Also, the fact that it’s not the only variant.

B1351, also known as the South African variant, is posing to be a challenge for Pfizer and Moderna since it’s unknown if the vaccine works against it. Moderna is currently working on a booster shot for B351, but Dr. Connick said all these mutations are thanks to our vaccination rate.

“The longer it takes to roll out vaccines, the longer the more people refuse the vaccine, the more opportunities to develop variants,” said Dr. Connick.

But then there’s the unknown of how long vaccinated people are immune. Dr. Connick said scientists are unsure if vaccinated people can get infected and asymptomatically transmit, which would create the need for more vaccines.

“I do think we could end up in a scenario where we may need to get a booster. However, if we could get people vaccinated rapidly and stop transmission, that would essentially be a way to stop this virus and eradicate it.”

That’s the ideal scenario. To get rid of coronavirus completely.

However, slow vaccinations may stand in the way of that goal.

Dr. Connicks said at this rate, we could end up in what’s called an “endemic” state, meaning most are vaccinated, but there are still groups of susceptible people who can transmit the virus. Thus, making the battle stretch on.

“It’s an ongoing arms race with the virus like we have with the flu. Where we’ll get vaccinated every year and then the virus will figure out new ways to get around us,” said Dr. Connick.

The silver lining? The old mitigation measures we’ve been doing work against the new variants.

Connick said our best defenses are to mask up, socially distance, and get vaccinated as soon as you are able.

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